Are Volunteers Entitled To Worker's Compensation?

Posted on: 15 July 2015

Volunteering is great for the community, and it can help to build your resume. However, if you are injured while volunteering, it can hurt your ability to pursue meaningful paid employment and cost you a lot of money in the long run. If you have recently been injured while doing volunteer work, you may wonder if you have any right to worker's compensation.

In most cases, the answer is no, but there are exceptions to that rule. If you fit into any of the following categories, you may be entitled to worker's compensation after injuring yourself doing volunteer work:

1. You are an emergency volunteer

Emergency volunteers are perhaps the most notable exceptions to the standard rules about volunteer workers not being able to get worker's compensation. If you are a volunteer firefighter or police person, the county or organization for which you volunteer has to cover you under its worker's compensation insurance plan.

Similarly, if you volunteer to help your local police or firefighters and you are injured while doing so, you may also be entitled to compensation.

2. You are paid a stipend for your volunteer work

Volunteers often receive non-monetary compensation for their work. In many cases, things like housing or meals while volunteering are a critical part of the program, because they allow the volunteers to devote time to these endeavors. If you received non-monetary compensation, you are sadly not eligible for worker's compensation after an injury.

However, if you received a cash stipend, you may be eligible for worker's comp. A cash stipend to cover your expenses while volunteering is generally considered to be maintenance like food or sleeping, and it does not turn you into a covered employee.

However, in some cases, stipends can be considered compensation for labor, and in those cases, you would be eligible. If your reimbursement falls into one of these gray areas, consult a worker's comp attorney to see what your rights are.

3. You received more than token gifts in exchange for your efforts

In some cases, volunteer organizations offer their volunteers gifts as tokens of their appreciation. If the gift is truly just a token of appreciation, you are considered a volunteer. However, if you have received expensive gifts that would be classified as more than a token expression of gratitude, those gifts may be considered compensation, and thus, you may be considered a worker.

4. Your volunteer work was actually unpaid training with a promise of a job at the end

Have you been volunteering based on the assumption that you will get a job out of your efforts? For example, if you were learning the ropes of a job at a non-profit as a volunteer but you were promised a job down the road, your work is actually considered unpaid training rather than volunteer work. In this case, you are also entitled to compensation for injuries.

5. Your injury was caused by the negligence of the volunteer organization

If you don't fit into any of the above categories, you may not be entitled to worker's compensation, but you may be able to get compensation for your medical bills, lost time at work and pain and suffering through other means. Namely, if there was negligence involved, you may be able to take the volunteer organization to court for negligence through an injury lawsuit.

When a worker accepts worker's compensation, that worker is essentially giving up his or her right to take his or her employer to court for negligence. This means that the worker cannot sue the company for lost time at work, medical bills, or pain and suffering. Instead, the worker's comp is designed to take care of those financial issues. However, if you are not a worker and not eligible for worker's comp, you haven't made that agreement, and you can take the organization to court.

If you are a volunteer who was recently hurt on the job, it may be time to contact a worker's compensation attorney. They can help you figure out your rights.